I saw on the news yesterday that inconsistent bedtimes have been linked to problem behaviors in kids. And it reminded me that the first piece of recovery information that I learned in the treatment center in Lynchburg, VA, in September of 1989 was about having a consistent bedtime as a support for long-term sobriety.
I'd been there maybe an hour. They'd gone through my bag to see if I'd smuggled in any drugs or alcohol. Gone through all my medications and registered them with the nurse who would now dole them out to me. Then shown me to my room. The treatment center was in an old nurses' dorm on the hospital campus. (You can find a full description of it in my novel, The Color of Longing.) The room was small, two twin beds, two dressers, a desk, a window. It looked like a dorm room. No decorations, plain blue walls, ugly bedspreads. I remember it was very hot in there. It seemed hot in the whole place or maybe that was just withdrawal.
The guy who was giving me the tour was named Sam and he had a cigarettes and whiskey voice but no Southern accent. He showed me the bathroom down the hall, told me I was lucky. There were only two women in residence and we would have the second bathroom all to ourselves while the 18 men shared the other. I wasn't feeling very lucky that day but I did come to appreciate that over the next month.
Then he said, "You're to be in your room by 9:30, lights out at 10. We get you up at 7."
"What if I'm not sleepy?"
"I guess you'll just lie there then." Then he laughed and said, "You'll sleep. Most people do."
Some look of fear or dismay must have crossed my face for he touched my arm and said. "You'll get used to it all. Having a regular schedule for sleep and meals is critical for your mental health. And we're as concerned about that as your physical health. Alcoholics keep crazy hours. We want you to learn to keep sane hours."
And I thought about late nights drinking and sleeping all afternoon and drinking at 4 am and dragging myself out of bed late morning on the weekends, mostly so I could start drinking, and wondered if he was right. Now I know he was. It wasn't just getting 8 or 9 hours of sleep, although I find that important. It was taking good care of myself and living with a structure instead of chaos. I see now, I mean in this very moment, that that's what I'm now moving towards with food. No wonder that memory got sparked.